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Shadow falls on Cadillac rancher

A millionaire rancher has been accused of abusing young boys. Manny Fernandez reports.

AMARILLO, Texas: For years, it has been hard to tell what has fascinated and shocked residents of this conservative Texas Panhandle city more: the 10 vintage Cadillacs buried nose-down in a wheat field off Interstate 40 like some automotive Stonehenge, or the project's landlord and patron, Stanley Marsh 3.

Mr Marsh - who prefers to use ''3'' instead of ''III,'' because he finds the Roman numerals too pretentious - does not mind the stream of tourists who deface the Cadillac Ranch with graffiti scribblings. At an event to mark its 30th anniversary in 2004, the man known as the P.T. Barnum of Amarillo spray-painted one of the tail-finned relics himself.

At 74, he is the only rancher in town whose windmill wears a bow tie and who has used his land and wealth as a kind of canvas for thought-provoking art. At his offices in Amarillo's tallest building, the Chase Tower, there were no buried cars, but a visiting reporter once noted the sign by the elevator doors: ''The People's Republic of the 12th Floor.''

Now, Mr Marsh - and his 12th floor headquarters - have become embroiled in legal turmoil in which he is accused of behaviour far beyond his well-known eccentricities. Eight teenage boys have sued him in recent weeks, alleging in a series of lawsuits that he supplied them with cash, cars and alcohol in return for sexual favours and performances at his office and at his home. The lawsuits claimed the boys, identified in court documents as John Does, were 15, 16 and 17 at the time.

The suits accuse Mr Marsh of being a ''serial abuser'' of boys and young men, allegations that Mr Marsh's lawyer said he planned on fighting in court. Papers filed in the lawsuits allege that those close to Mr Marsh, including his wife Wendy Marsh and business associate David Weir, were aware of the abuse and at times facilitated it. Mr Weir, the lawsuits claim, required the teenagers to sign a document that waived any liability for Stanley Marsh while they were his employees or guests.

Mr Weir, Wendy Marsh and the Marshes' son, Stanley Marsh IV, were also named in the suits. The boys are charging sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, suing Stanley Marsh 3 for unspecified monetary damages, and the other defendants are being sued for negligence, among other allegations.


The Amarillo police have begun a criminal investigation, and the district attorney in Lubbock County has been appointed a special prosecutor. Police detectives served a search warrant at Mr Marsh's offices and removed a number of items.

The lawyer representing Mr Marsh, Kelly Utsinger, said his client is co-operating with the police. ''Any suggestions about the truth of these allegations needs to be reserved until the evidence is fully developed,'' said Mr Utsinger, who also represents Wendy Marsh, Mr Weir and Stanley Marsh IV. ''We will file responsive pleadings that challenge and deny these allegations.''

Long-time friends and associates said they believed the accusations were false and continue to support Mr Marsh, whose wife was named his guardian last year after he suffered a series of strokes. Acquaintances noted that no charges have been filed and that he was innocent until proven guilty. They said they were not worried about the scandal hurting either the city's image or the popularity of the Cadillac Ranch, an attraction that inspired a Bruce Springsteen song in the 1980s and helped make Amarillo a household name.

''I think most people in Amarillo appreciate it as a work of art, and really don't think of it in the context of its donor any more than people concentrate on whatever Van Gogh's psychological problems were in appreciation of his art,'' said state senator Kel Seliger, a Panhandle Republican and the city's former four-term mayor. ''One should always take allegations of indecency with a child seriously. But at this point they are just that, they're allegations.''

Mr Marsh has long been known as Amarillo's eccentric millionaire. Heir to his grandfather's oil and gas fortune, he once took pride in owning a pig that had wings tattooed on its sides.

''Stanley is an unusual person,'' said Dick DeGuerin, a Houston lawyer who represented Mr Marsh in the 1990s. ''He's brilliant, highly educated, very intelligent. But he sticks out in a place like Amarillo, a place where people who are unusual are frowned upon. Because he's unusual, some people get the wrong idea about him. Stanley is a generous, fine, honest person, and I will not believe these allegations against him.''

The New York Times